Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving 3 Days Later

After 6 years of not celebrating, I sat down to a Thanksgiving meal today, 3 days after the American holiday. Since I live in Italy and found myself working 10 hours at a fair on the actual festivity, the relaxed meal had to wait until Sunday, but it was worth it. We had our feast in the company of 4 Americans, a Venetian, a Paduan, a Roman and a Romanian. Wine and food abounded. There was turkey, cranberry sauce (homemade and can variety), sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, string beans, stuffing, pumpkin pie and tiramisù.

We stuffed ourselves into a small apartment and then proceeded to stuff our stomachs with the American traditions. We joked over the food and Italian wine. It was a great company of foreigners. Coffee and cognac finished off the meal. It was a very satisfactory experience.

Compliments to the chefs and good work on the part of those who found the difficult ingredients such as cranberries!

Baci a tutti! Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ski Slopes Open for Business

It's not even December yet and the ski slopes in the Cortina area have already been open for about 3 weeks. It's the beginning of what should be a very long and snowy winter in the Dolomites this year. For a look at the Faloria's slopes, click here.

Down in the Padana valley, at my house, preparations are under way for the winter season. This involves listing what needs to be bought like new gloves, ski poles and thermos, sharpening the crampons' points, practicing safety knot combinations and reading about interesting snowshoe and alpine skiing trails.

This is a picture of one mountain view from Monte Pore, which we climbed last season. We are looking forwarding to more of the same.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday's False Friend


preservatives v. preservativo

Preservatives help keep food from going sour or stale in English while the Italian word with only one letter that changes, the "e" to an "o", reveals a completely different meaning: a condom. So once you have finished your Thanksgiving turkey dinner and you want to talk about food quality and keeping food in good condition, remember not to bring the "sexy" false friend into the discussion! Use conservante for a better translation unless you want to turn red at the dinner table with your in-laws...

Eng) American bread usually has more preservatives than Italian.

It) Di solito, il pane americano ha più conservanti di quello italiano.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Expensive Mail

I am completely frustrated by the Italian postal system and custom's office. Every time I receive just about anything from the US, I end up paying at least Euro 10 ($14) on it because it's value gets taxed at 20% and then additional customs and postal services are added for it to be handled at the Italian border.

The most recent frustrating payment occurred when someone sent what they declared as $50 worth of pictures to me (but pictures weren't even in the envelope). I found myself paying the normal taxes and fees with none of the benefits of even getting what I thought I was helping pay for!

Another good story comes from the time I sent 3 big boxes of old kitchen supplies to myself. Once the packages arrived, and since I had declared no value on the old pots and pans, Italy's customs office decided to tax me on the cost of the postage of having the boxes sent from the US. So for the box that cost $80 to send, I was taxed 20% on that value. It was absolutely crazy!

Those boxes were delivered to my house by a man with a TNT tag on his shirt and he was driving not a TNT van but a plain white one with no insignia . I found out later that the Italian postal service pays for private delivery services once the big packs come into the territory. I suppose some of these bogus fees are helping subsidize this costly Italian option. I just don't know why the Italian postal system cannot complete the delivery cycle itself, especially considering the foreign sender has paid for its total voyage to destination at the departure site.

If you think you can just take your boxes and not pay, you risk having the police come to your door with a criminal report.

Meanwhile, if you call the phone number the post office gives you to inquire about these fees, no one answers. You only have five days in which the package will remain in-country and not delivered. If you do not pay within that time, you risk having the package sent back to the sender for the cost of return delivery. It's a no-win situation for the receiver.

As usual, the system is awful and who pays? YOU

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Diesel Jeans, No...Olive Oil and Winery

The famous jeans-maker extraordinaire not only designs cutting-edge and trendy clothes, but also boasts land that produces wine, grappa and olive oil. Renzo Rosso, who created his dynasty in 1994, wants to go back to Italian tradition and work the land-with design in the bottles and tradition in the fruits of the land.

In Marostica (Vicenza), Diesel company owns 7 hectares of land that they dedicate to farming, an azienda agricola.

I find this an interesting addition to the company. Something like this would only happen in Italy. Would Gap company ever make cheddar cheese or open up an authentic hamburger joint in the USA?

Diesel's wine list includes the following: "Bianco di Rosso" Chardonnay; "Rosso di Rosso" Merlot and Cabernet (together?); "Nero di Rosso" Pinot Nero; "Grappa di Rosso" with a combination of all the plants together; and "Olio di Rosso" with mostly the Leccino tree and some additions of olives from the Frantoio and Ascolane varieties.

I wonder how good these wines and oil are being that a business guru, most interested in design, is trying to produce some quality food and drink products. It's definitely an interesting project. It's probably mostly in the hands of farmers with just the label put on the bottles and promotion.

Click here for the website of Diesel Farm, including online store. Of course, the site looks great--it's pure design!

If any of you taste these products, let me know about the quality. Thanks!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday's False Friend

stranger v. straniero

We English-speakers use stranger to refer to someone we don't know. In Italian, straniero may look similar but the meaning is more specific: a foreigner. Translate the word with estraneo for a better solution.

Eng) "Don't talk to strangers," the mother said to her son.

It) "Non parlare con un estraneo, " dice la madre al suo figlio.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A One-Name Street

While walking my dog today, I got especially curious about who lives on my street. There are many nice houses with fenced gardens. It's an Italian dog's paradise for this reason. Plus, it is within a mile of the city center.

My careful observation of the names listed on the houses' mailboxes revealed that either almost everyone comes from the same family or there are a hell of a lot of people in Padua with the last name of Schiavon. Out of 13 consecutive houses, 11 have at least one person (husband or wife) with that name. So this leads me to believe that either one or two farmers were able to sell off their copious land and house all their relatives in the area from the funds derived from that sale, the family is incredibly large and full of generations of people who have chosen lucrative jobs, or all the Schiavon's just happened to love this area and settle here. Since the people are not exceptionally friendly or talkative, I probably will never really find out the real reason. I've lived here for over 3 years and only know 2 neighbors by name. Everything is very discrete...

The same street (which I won't mention for privacy's sake) has recently become a one-way road towards the city center so that a bicycle lane could be installed, making the area safer for everyone.

This one-way street has basically one name as owner: Schiavon.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Who's not paying their taxes these days?

Last week, Padua registered 75 arrests for tax evasion. The Guardia di Finanza's crackdown has come home and some of the sh___ has hit the fan locally. People were studied to compare their tax returns and their lifestyle. Red flags went up when, for example, a tax return showed earnings of 20,000/year while the person was driving a luxury car, going to exotic locations on holidays, a member at an elite golf club, etc. The tax-evasion offenders are not only business owners and freelance professionals, but also public officers. Padua comes in third in the Veneto as the city with the most arrests in this category while Verona takes the lead.

This initiative on the part of the government has ruffled many feathers. Mayors don't want to "tattle" on their citizens. Switzerland does not want to continue cooperating with the Italian authorities who are investigating money which might have been transfered illegally to tax havens in their country.

Alas, if only everyone would pay their taxes: the country's services would be so much better. Unfortunately the brunt of the tax "euro" is being paid by low-level employees who already get by on very little earnings. A 40-60% tax bracket is difficult to bear.

Share the wealth, evaders! Pay up! Maybe if we all paid, taxes could even go down. Now wouldn't that be novel!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday's False Friend

proper v. proprio

In English, proper most often means, "characterized by appropriateness," while the similar-looking word proprio from Italian actually primarily means "own" as in "your own." Use adatto or appropriato or corretto when translating from English in this case.

Eng) I never know the proper thing to say on special occasions.

It) Non so mai la cosa adatta/corretta da dire nei momenti speciali.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Olive Oil Update

The weekend's work at the Farm Monte Sereo from October 31 and November 1, when I participated, produced a total of 317 kilos of olives picked and 58 liters of oil pressed.

Now that's a lot of oil!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

A Rainy Sunday with Nothing to Do

Could this be the best part about Italy? When it rains as hard as it is doing today in Padua, on a Sunday, you revel in nothingness. You don't want to get out of bed. You have no reason to get out of bed. Everything is closed anyway. (But actually that is not true the closer we get to Christmas.)

I started to appreciate this aspect of life when first living in Rome in 1992: the zen of doing nothing. It still continues almost unchanged in 2009, although a few more northerners try to be productive on Sunday by shopping when they can, since shops can sometimes have open hours on the Sabbath day.

In the US, Sunday became a fairly regular day when I was about 8 years old. All the shops were allowed by law to be open every day of the week that year. By the age of 16, I was even working on Sundays in the shops.

Upon arrival in the bel paese, that was distinctly not the reality here. Sunday was for church, relaxation, family lunches and/or walks in the city square or along the riverbanks. Maybe an ice cream cone could be eaten in the afternoon, but work or hard-core shopping was not part of the possibilities for that particular day of the week.

Now I follow my dog's cue and don't even want to step foot outside of the house. It's a glorious time to do nulla--

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday's False Friend

noisy v. noioso

Noisy in English means sound that is loud, unpleasant, unexpected or undesired, however the similar word, noioso, in Italian means bored. Use rumoroso as the correct translation.

Eng) My first apartment in Padua was extremely noisy because it was several yards away from a hospital. It made my former New York apartment seem quite!

It) Il mio primo appartamento a Padova era estremamente rumoroso perché si trovava ad una centinaia di metri dall'ospedale. Ha fatto sembrare silenzioso il mio precedente appartamento di New York!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Lone American with an Italian Driver's License

That's me. It's been a revelation to realize that I am the only female American that I know up north with an Italian driver's license. This is not to pass judgement but rather an insightful look into the phenomenon. All the other women appear not to bother. They just use public transportation or their bicycles to do everything. If a car is necessary for anything, they depend on their significant other to drive them. That's fine but I could only survive about 2 years in those conditions.

This topic came up again as I was leaving the Euganean Hills this past weekend and yet another person seemed surprised to see me with car keys in-hand.

For me, it is important to have my own autonomy and a license helps ensure that. Although public transportation is much better in Italy than in the US, it doesn't get me everywhere I would like to go, especially outside of Padua's city center.

Yes, I did have to go through the hassle of getting a learner's permit, taking some driving lessons, studying for a written exam in Italian and paying a lot of people a lot of money to get my little pink plastic patente. It was one of the strangest experiences, going through what most 16 or 18-year-olds do while I was at the ripe age of 28, and being tested to do it in a foreign language.

The worst part was how the driving instructor treated me: like I didn't know how to drive after 12 years already behind the wheel of American cars! But I swallowed some pride for those "whopping" 3 lessons and saddled up to the test, passing with flying colors. (The old man reminded me of my former orthodontist who always ranted at women.)

You see, as Americans (and extra-communitari), we must get an official Italian license within 365 days of receiving our permesso di soggiorno (Permit of Stay). After 1 year, the Italian government will no longer acknowledge licenses issued outside of the European Community. So you only get a year of "free" driving and then you have to stay on foot or go through the hoops of obtaining the necessary certification on European soil.

I must admit that some situations as a driver in Italy had me scared at first: driving in the dead center of downtown Padua with things moving in all directions at all times, such as pedestrians, scooters, buses and impatient drivers. There's also the perennial fear of ending up in a z.t.l. (limited traffic area) by accident and getting a massive ticket! As for the countryside, the Veneto is full of important routes which are flanked by large ditches within only a few feet of the traffic lanes. One small mistake and you can end up head-first or toppled-over in them. There are no such things as emergency lanes along these roads to help abate this possible "demise". Plus, the lanes are narrow and large trucks are barreling toward you in the opposite direction at a distance that seems dangerously close. The wind they kick up alone almost makes you veer off course into those feared ditches.

In the end, you get used to everything: chaos, fog, people who stop randomly in the middle of a roundabout, reckless scooters and stupid cyclists who insist on being on the road at night without any lights or reflectors. Somehow, you don't get in an accident. Then more time goes by and when you return to the US, you find yourself bored by driving along large and orderly beltways and being able to immediately find an open parking space just about anywhere you go. You also have to remember to go slower on the highway.

In all, getting the Italian license has made me a better driver. I am prepared for anything now. Most importantly, I can drive a stick shift! How many American women nowadays can say the same?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Trees Raining Olives on a Lovely Sunny Day

800 trees need to be harvested for their olives at a friend's farm, Agriturismo Monte Sereo, in the Colli Euganee west of Padua.
What better way to spend a gorgeous November day than here, working under the warm sun! Together with a small army of about twenty adults and kids, we went to work.

An American with bright red hair, io, uses a bright orange comb to pull off the fruit from the tree branches which is much faster and more effective than pulling each olive off by hand. A net laid under each tree catches all the olives. As harvesters, we just needed to be careful not to crush the fallen olives under our feet as we moved around the tree, which is no small feat.

The farm owner, Leonardo Granata, demonstrates the art of "combing."

A close up of the comb.

One of the most difficult parts of the operation is actually seeing all the olives and making sure that the plant has been completely plucked of them. Since many of the olives are green like the plant's leaves, this can be more difficult than you would think. Other olives hide in the shadows of leaves while still others dangle from branches in the middle of the plant's thicket and it is not easy to physcially access them. This is where the young children are sometimes more effective than adults in the harvest quest.

The trees with fewer olives get picked by hand with no net underneath. The olives are gathered in baskets and added to the larger plastic cases. The children are helping top off this case.

Otherwise, the net is used to funnel all the olives into the cases as shown here.

The olive tree grove on Monte Sereo overlooking the plains including Padua in the distance.

A still life of the tools used during the olive harvest.

After working in the orchard, we relaxed in the afternoon sun with a regional speciality, pasta e fagioli (pasta and bean soup), bruschetta made from last week's pressed harvest, good wine and Nardini grappa extra-reserve. And of course, we all went home with a little bottle of the farm's olive oil blend.

Pictured below is the restored eighteenth-century farmhouse "Monte Sereo" which is also available for hire as a bed-and-breakfast or rental house property for longer stays.

For more information, consult the farm's website:
Owners: Leonardo Granata and Silvia Carenza (who speaks beautiful English)